DUE PROCESS CRISIS IN THE U.S. IMMIGRATION COURTS: New Report Finds That Detained Migrants In The Arlington & Baltimore Courts Face Severe Access To Counsel Problems Which Can Be “Outcome Determinative!”

https://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/DC_Access_to_Counsel_rev4_033117 (1).pdf

This report (see link) was prepared and issued by the Center For Popular Democracy. Here are some key findings:

  • Every year, nearly 4,000 people in Washington, D.C. metropolitan area courts, Arlington, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, face deportation in civil immigration court without the assistance of a lawyer. Based on original data analysis of Department of Justice records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, seven out of ten detained individuals in immigration court removal proceedings in Arlington, VA and eight out of ten in Baltimore, MD did not have any legal representation.
    • ■  People without lawyers faced enormous odds in fighting their deportation cases. Among detained immigrants without lawyers, people in Arlington were only successful in their cases 11 percent of the time and unrepresented people in Baltimore only successful 7 percent of the time.
    • ■  Having a lawyer in Arlington more than doubled a person’s chances of being able to remain in the U.S. and quadrupled a person’s chance of obtaining relief in Baltimore.
  • ■  Between 2010 and 2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained nearly 15,000 people in local and county jails2 throughout the states of Maryland and Virginia. In both regions, people who did not have lawyers were more than twice as likely to remain detained during the entirety of their immigration case, even if they may have been eligible for release on bond.
  • **************************************

Read the entire report which has some case histories in addition to charts and graphs.

The findings are disturbing because the Arlington and Baltimore Immigration Courts generally are considered among the best in the nation in striving to provide due process. The judges in each court are committed to representation and often go out of their way to encourage and facilitate the appearance of counsel. The ICE Chief Counsel’s Offices also appreciate and support pro bono representation.

Additionally, as noted in the report, the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area has a number of great organizations dedicated to providing pro bono lawyers, as well as local practitioners, “big law” firms, and numerous outstanding law school clinics, all of which support the pro bono program.

Yet even under these generally favorable conditions, the overwhelming majority of individuals on the detained dockets in both courts appear pro se, without a lawyer. And, the results with a lawyer are very significantly better than for those forced to represent themselves.

I fear that the new program of expanded immigration detention being planned by DHS, with courts operating in obscure, out of the way locations along the Southern Border, will further impede already limited access to counsel and therefore further degrade due process in our U.S. Immigration Courts.

Frankly, I have not seen any mention of the importance of due process or facilitating access to counsel in any of the many Trump Administration pronouncements on immigration. It’s all about enforcement, detention, removals, and prosecutions. Fairness and due process, which should always be paramount concerns, appear to be ignored.

In the end, it likely will be up to the already overworked and stressed pro bono bar, human rights groups, and community-based NGOs to enforce immigrants’ rights to counsel and to full due process. And, ultimately, that’s probably going to require litigation and intervention by the Article III Courts.

Thanks to Adina Appelbaum, who worked on this report, for bringing it to my attention.

PWS

04/13/17

 

Spend A Few Minutes With Me Behind The Bench! — Read My “Detained Master Calendar” Vignette From The “Journal on Migration and Human Security!”

Part IV: The Immigration Judge

There is widespread consensus that immigration courts are overwhelmed with immense caseloads, inadequate staffing, and lengthy backlogs (Arnold & Porter 2010). Non-detained immigrants in removal proceedings often wait two to three years to have their cases adjudicated. Cases on the detained docket move much faster. Despite the considerable time it takes to access counsel, determine eligibility for defenses to deportation, and gather evidence, the average life of a pro se detained immigrant’s case totals a mere 23 days (Eagly and Shafer 2015, 63).

In addition to facing institutional pressure to quickly move cases while immigrants are detained at government expense, judges are overburdened with the number of detained cases that must be efficiently adjudicated (Lustig et al. 2008). In 2015, immigration judges adjudicated and completed 51,005 detained cases, constituting 28 percent of all immigration cases completed that year (EOIR 2016, gure 11). Judges have very little face time with immigrants in their courtroom, and about half the time spent with pro se detainees involves requests for continuances to seek counsel (Eagly and Shafer 2015, 61). Furthermore, as administrative law judges, immigration judges have obligations to the respondents who appear pro se and are often required to step into the role of counsel in order to fully develop the record through interrogating, examining, and cross-examining an immigrant and any witnesses.”14

Below, a former immigration judge provides a snapshot of a few minutes on the detained docket.

*****

Prelude15

Wednesday afternoon, detained master calendar. Feeling love and dread. Love: Fast-paced, meaningful, live audience, prepared attorneys, challenging legal questions, teamwork, mediation, problem solving, saving lives, teaching, performing, drama, positive messages, mentoring, full range of life and legal skills in use and on display. Dread: Hopeless cases, sobbing families, watching goodbyes, “not-quite-ready-for-primetime” (“NQRFPT”) attorneys, bad law, missing files, missing detainees, lousy televideo picture of respondent, equipment failures, claustrophobic courtroom, clogged dockets, imprisoned by the system, due process on the run, stress.

Pregame Warm-up

“How many today, Madam Clerk?”

“Fourteen, five bonded, two continued.”

“Thanks, Madam Clerk. Let’s make it happen!”

Showtime.

Politeness, patience, kindness. Listen.

“Please rise, the United States Immigration Court at Arlington Virginia, is now in session, Honorable Paul Wickham Schmidt, presiding.”

Jam-packed with humanity. Live. Uncomfortably hot. Bandbox courtroom. Ratcheting tensions. America’s most important, most forgotten courts. Lots of moving pieces. Put folks at ease. Performance begins.

The Damned

“We’re on the record. This is Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt at the United States Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia; we’re on a televideo hookup with the DHS Farmville Detention Center, the date is . . . , and this is a master calendar removal hearing in the case of Ricardo Caceres, File number A123 456 789. Counsel, please identify yourselves for the record.”

“Bonnie Baker for the respondent, Mr. Caceres.”

“April Able for the DHS.”
“What are we here for Ms. Baker?”

“Your Honor, we’re seeking a reasonable bond for my client, who has been in the United States for more than two decades. He’s a family man, the sole support of his wife and four US citizen children, who are sitting right behind me. He’s a skilled carpenter with a secure job. He pays his taxes. He’s a deacon at his church. His employer is here this afternoon and is willing to post bond for him. The respondent’s wife is out of work, and the family is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. The oldest son and daughter are having trouble in school ever since their father was detained. The baby has developed asthma and cries all night.”

“I assume he’s in detention for a reason, Ms. Baker. What is it?”

“Well, Your Honor, he had a very unfortunate incident with one of his co-workers that resulted in his one and only brush with the law. I think he probably got some questionable legal advice, too.”

“What’s the conviction?”
“Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.”
“Sentence?”
“18 months, with all but three months suspended, Your Honor.”

“Hmmm. Doesn’t sound very promising. What’s your take, Ms. Able?”

“He’s an aggravated felon, Your Honor, under the BIA and Fourth Circuit case law. Therefore, he’s a mandatory detainee. May I serve the records of conviction?”

“Yes, thank you Ms. Able. Isn’t Ms. Able right, Ms. Baker? He’s mandatory detained under the applicable law, isn’t he?”

“Well, Your Honor, technically that might be right. But we’re asking you to exercise your humanitarian discretion in this extraordinary situation.”

“As you know, Ms. Baker, I’m not a court of equity. The law gives me no discretion here. So, based on what you’ve presented, no bond. What’s next? Are you admitting and conceding removability and filing for relief?”

“The family wanted me to ask for bond, Your Honor.”

“You did, Ms. Baker. What’s the next step?”

“Well, the respondent has instructed me that if you didn’t grant a bond, he just wants a final order to go back to Mexico. He’s been in detention for some time now, and he just can’t wait any longer.”

“You’re sure that’s what Mr. Caceres wants to do?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Mr. Caceres, this is Judge Schmidt, can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Because of the crime you committed, the law doesn’t permit me to set a bond for you. Your lawyer, Ms. Baker, tells me that you have decided to give up your rights to a full hearing and be removed to Mexico. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Your Honor. I can’t stand any more detention.”

“You understand that this is a final decision, and that once I enter the order you will be removed as soon as DHS can make arrangements.”

“Yes, judge, I understand.”

“And, you’ve discussed this with your family, sir?”

“I just want to go — no more detention. Can I go tomorrow?”

“Probably not. But the assistant chief counsel and DHS officer in court are noting that you want to go as soon as can be arranged.”

“Your Honor, may his wife and children come up and see him for a moment?”

“Yes, of course, Ms. Baker. Please come on up folks.”

“Your Honor, the respondent’s wife would like to make a statement to the court.”

“I don’t think that’s prudent, Ms. Baker. She’s already hysterical, and there is nothing I can do about the situation, as I’m sure you’ll explain to her. We have lots of other people waiting to see me this afternoon.”

“Understood. Thanks, Your Honor.’

“You’re welcome, Ms. Baker. You did the best you could. Take care folks. I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Mr. Caceres, good luck to you in Mexico. Please stay out of trouble. The clerk will issue the final order. Who’s next, Madam Clerk?”

The “Not-Quite-Ready-For-Prime-Time” (“NQRPT”) Lawyer

“Mr. Queless, we’re here for your filing of the respondent’s asylum application.”
“Um, Your Honor, I’m sorry I don’t have it with me. I didn’t have a chance to get to it.”

“Why’s that, Mr. Queless? Your client has been in detention for some time now, and I gave you a generous continuance to get this done.”

“That’s very true, Your Honor, but the power was out at our office for a day, and my son crashed his car and I had to take care of the insurance and the repairs.”

“All right, come back in three weeks with your filing, without fail.”

“Can I come back next week, Your Honor? My client has been in detention a long time.”

“I know that, counsel. That’s why I wanted you to file today, so we could set an individual date. I’m already overbooked for next week, and I can’t justify putting you in front of others who are prepared.”

“Ah, could we just set an individual date now, Your Honor, and I’ll promise to file within a week?”

“That sounds like a really bad idea, Mr. Queless, in light of actual performance to date. I want to see the completed filing before I assign the individual date. That’s how we do things around here. You’ve been around long enough to know that.”

“Excuse me, Your Honor, but may I be heard?”

“Yes, you may, Ms. Able.”

“With due respect, Your Honor, at the last master calendar you said this would be the final continuance. This detained case has been pending for months, and you have given counsel a more than reasonable opportunity to file for relief. At this point, the DHS must request that you deny any further continuance and move that you enter an order of removal.”

“Well, I sympathize with your position, Ms. Able. I did say this would be the last continuance, and I’m as frustrated as you are. But I note that the respondent is from a country where we routinely grant asylum, often by agreement or with no objection from your office. Therefore, I feel that we must get to the merits of his claim. Let’s do this. Mr. Queless, I’m going to give you an ‘incentive’ to get this filed. If the I-589 is not complete and ready to file at the next hearing — no more excuses, no more ‘dog ate my homework’ — I’m going to agree with Ms. Able, grant her motion, and enter an order of removal against your client. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Honor. I’ll have it here at the master in three weeks.”

“Anything further from either counsel?”

“Nothing from the DHS, Your Honor.”

“Nothing from the respondent, Your Honor.”

“Hearing is continued.”

The Skeptic

“How are you this afternoon, Mr. Garcia?”

“Okay.”

“Spanish your best language?”

“Yes.”

“Is this your first appearance before me?”

“Yes.”

“You’re going to look for a lawyer before we proceed with your case?”

“Do I need a lawyer, judge?”

“Depends on what you want, Mr. Garcia. I can send you back to Guatemala at government expense or give you voluntary departure if you wish to pay your own way and avoid having a formal removal order on your record. Is that what you want?”

“Oh, no, judge. I don’t want to go back.”

“Then, you need a lawyer, sir. Officer, please give Mr. Garcia the legal services list. Mr. Garcia, this is a list of organizations in Virginia that might be willing to represent you at little or no charge if you can’t afford a lawyer. You should also check with family and friends to see if they can help you nd a free or low-cost lawyer to take your immigration case. I’ll set your case over for three weeks to give you a chance to look.”

“Can I come back next week?”

“You won’t be able to find a lawyer by then, sir. Take the three weeks. If you don’t have a lawyer by then, we’ll go forward without one.”

“Okay, Your Honor.”

“Good luck in finding a lawyer, Mr. Garcia. The clerk will issue the notices. Who’s next, Madam Clerk?”

Postlude

Out of court. Satisfied. Tired. Drained — like a Steph Curry three-pointer. Find my colleagues. Fresh air. Walk in the park. Talk sports, politics, weather. Visit Starbucks. Final refill. Recharge batteries. Master tomorrow morning. Fifty non-detained. Too many. The beat goes on. Walking free. Not an “alien.” Glad. Lucky. Thankful.

14 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 240(b)(1).
15 This account is written by Hon. Paul Wickham Schmidt, who served as the chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals before being appointed to the Arlington Immigration Court in May 2003, where he served as an immigration judge for 13 years before recently retiring from that position. While the names he has provided in this account are entirely fictional, the situations he describes are based on his own wealth of experience adjudicating cases in immigration court.

*****************************************

The full citation is:

Ahmed, Saba; Jordan, Rachel; Appelbaum, Adina, The Human Cost of IIRIRA — Stories From Individuals Impacted by the Immigration Detention System, 5 JMHS 194, 206-11 (2017). Co-author Adina Appelbaum is a former Arlington Immigration Court legal intern and one of my “all-star” students from “Refugee Law & Policy” at Georgetown Law. Read the entire collection of interesting and moving  human stories here:

80-263-2-PB

PWS

03/22/17